“Close the door”
Peter walked into the room, shutting behind him the heavy wooden door. He looked at his father seated at his usual spot; an antique leather armchair that he had won at an auction a couple years ago, when Peter was just four. Seeing his father in that chair always gave him cold sweats. He knew from experience that something bad was about to happen. How many times did his father lash out on him in this room? Too many times to count, he thought. He swallowed hardly, apprehending what was to come. Had his report card come in already? Or was it something he’d unconsciously done that had lead to his convocation? Everything was possible.
“Sit” his father ordered, gesturing to the neighboring chair.
Peter looked in the direction of the chair, unsure of what to do. Was this a trick? Did his father try to butter him up so that he could strike harder later? He wasn’t sure.
“Sit down, Peter” his father insisted, impatience growing out in his voice.
Peter nodded and moved towards the chair, making sure to not act foolishly. He waited. Waited for the sentence to come. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, his father spoke.
“I received a visit from a certain Mr. Baits today. Do you know who I am referring to, Peter?”
Peter had no idea. Was he supposed to know this man?
“He said he’d heard you sing in the choir over the weekend, and seemed impressed by your talents. He wanted to know if I’d agree to let you join his school of music in the City.”
Wonderful, Peter thought. Another man who was going to get him in trouble. Why did the Universe persist in making his life miserable? All he wanted was to have a normal, drama free life for at least the next twelve years. Peter watched his father stand up and walk towards the bookshelves that lined the northern wall of the study. He reached to one of the books, seemed to go through it, looking for something – or just wanting to stretch out the time, before replacing back the book on the shelf, as if changing his mind.
“I told him I would consider his request. He will be in town for another night before he has to go back to the city. He wants to hear you sing alone, and has invited us to join him for dinner.”
Peter didn’t know what to do with this information. Should he feel happy? Worried? Should he be making plans of a glorious future away from this parent who seemed to think that a good whooping was the way to show how much he cared? Should he feel hopeful that his father might let him out of this golden jail? He didn’t know. He didn’t want to know. Expressing a desire was like committing a sin under this roof. He was supposed to be grateful for everything. His life. The roof over his head. The bed he slept in. The food he ate. The school he attended. The time his dad allocated to turning him into a man. Sometimes he wondered if his life would have been different had his mother been around. The poor woman died when he was two; she was riding her horse when she endured a fatal fall. Unable to look at the horse after the passing of his wife, his father had the horse put down. Peter often wondered what kind of man his father had been before the loss of his wife. Had he been caring? Kind? Did he hurry up home at the end of the day in order to spend every moment in the company of his young family? Did he laugh often? And when his mother passed away, did he cry? Peter had hard time imagining his father capable of such humanity. All he could do, was just wonder.
“You need to be ready to leave at six sharp. I think it will be interesting to see what talents this Mr. Baits has seen in you. Maybe after all, you are not all loss. Maybe we can salvage your future, since you don’t seem to be particularly interested in school.”
Peter saw his father hand him a piece of blue paper. He took it and recognized it to be his report card. He didn’t need to open it to know that his grades had been less than exemplary, and that he should have already received his punishment. Maybe after all, the Universe had heard his prayers? Maybe this Mr. Baits would save him from his own unfortunate circumstances? Maybe, maybe…
“This might just be your lucky day, son. Now go. Be ready to leave soon.”
Before his father finished speaking, Peter jumped from his chair and rushed outside of the study room. He climbed the stairs that led to his room, making sure nobody was around to spot him. He didn’t want Mrs. Lecky, their housekeeper, yelling after him, or worse, his father change his mind. He needed to hide away in his room until it was time to leave. He needed some time to process what was about to happen and how he should act.
It was exactly seven o’clock in the evening when Peter and his father entered the sitting room in Mr. Baits’s hotel room. As soon as they had crossed the doors, they saw a tall man standing by the french windows, absorbed in his thoughts. Or perhaps, was he enwrapped in the melody escaping from the piano across the room? A young woman was seated behind the keyboards, and played the most airy and whimsical melody Peter had ever heard. Their sudden appearance in the room did not seem to disturb neither of the parties, for Peter assumed, the man standing by the windows was Mr. Baits. The service boy who’d let them in, approached the man and whispered to his ear before Mr. Baits seemed to notice their presence. He gave the lad a nod and then slowly turned away from whatever had been catching his eyes, a smile appearing on his face in a sign of recognition.
“Ah! Mr. Pearson! I am so glad you could join us for dinner tonight!” Mr. Baits approached and extended his hand in a greeting. Peter watched his father shake Mr. Baits’s hand and return his polite smile.
“I must admit, I was intrigued by your interest in my son.”
His father then proceeded to the introductions. Mr. Baits was quite tall, a few inches taller than Peter’s father, and much more slimmer. He wore an expensive suit, and arbored nicely groomed facial hair. His eyes were of a distinct green tint, but what caught Peter’s eyes the most, was his smile. He smiled like a man who had lived a fruitful life. A man free to do and be anything he wished. At that moment, Peter wanted to be this man. For the first time in his life, he wanted something so much that he felt a pang in his heart. Was it envy?Excitement?
“At last we meet, Peter!” Mr. Baits said, extending his right hand towards him. The boy shook it, with no conviction. Mr. Baits seemed to notice it, raising his eyebrow as he returned his attention to the woman who was still playing the piano. “Mary, dear, come meet our guests.”
Suddenly the music stopped and the air became stiff. Or was it Peter’s imagination? He felt as if the silence would absorb them all at any given moment. He followed the lady with his eyes, as she moved gracefully across the room, soon taking place by Mr. Baits’s side. She curtsied and extended her hand to his father, who bowed and gave her a gentle but brief kiss. Peter had never seen his father kiss another woman. Or any woman for that matter. Although they were four in this room, Peter had the impression that somehow Mr. Baits and him had been excluded from the equation. Mary, of her birth name Mary Eleanor Baits, was Mr. Baits’s niece and pupil. She excelled at the piano and had played before the Queen herself, Mr. Baits proudly informed the Pearsons. Peter wondered what it felt like to be so talented and clearly, so desired by the likes of the Queen of England. He couldn’t help but notice how his father’s demeanor changed as he payed Mary a compliment, making her blush and lighting her face with a beautiful smile. It was clear to Peter that they were playing a game, to which neither him nor Mr. Baits were invited.
“Mary will accompany you at the piano tonight” Mr. Baits informed Peter. The boy was used to never being asked his opinion, and so he just bowed in acceptance. His hands were getting sweaty from the growing angst of what was to come. He wasn’t used to being the center of the attention. He wanted to go back home and crawl into his bed. But that was not an option, at least not until he had served his purpose. For the first time since they had been introduced, Mary actually looked at him and offered him a shy – but encouraging smile. Peter noticed that she wasn’t much older than him, despite the makeup she bore. She was very pretty but not in the classical way dictated by the society’s norm. She was tall for a girl of her age, and had small but pursed peach lips. Her hair, arranged in the latest fashion, was red, with a hint of blond in them. Or was it the light that gave it this effect? She had the same green eyes as her uncle and the most adorable freckles Peter had ever seen on anyone. He couldn’t imagine how she could be so perfect. But then again, how could she not?
After Mary had acknowledged Peter with a curtsy, she slowly made her way back to the piano. “When you are ready, Mr. Pearson” she called for Peter, who couldn’t help to blush and feel the heat embrace him. Soon enough he could sense the sweat pearl on his upper lip and his throat tighten, drying out. He looked around as if to find an exit. With no success, he slowly moved towards the piano and Mary, and with a voice so low that only she could hear it, asked her to play a song that he had been singing since he could remember. It was a ballad of lost hope and love which he sang every time he felt like the world would fall and would engulf him. Mary’s smile brightened in recognition of the title, almost mimicking her uncle’s. Peter asked for a glass of water, which seemed to instantly appear by his side, without him knowing how it had gotten there. He took a sip of it and looked at the audience. His father and Mr. Baits now both held a glass of some mysterious brown substance. The men seemed relaxed and ready to enjoy the show. While Mr. Baits had his eyes on Peter, his father – as the boy came to notice, had his set on Mary. Anger and embarrassment rushed through the young boy and it is with defeat that he began to sing. How foolish of him to think that his father was truly interested in his talents – whatever they may be! The man had never really paid attention to his son, if it wasn’t to punish him. Peter’s voice – who at first had been hesitant, grew slowly, becoming more determined and more focused on each sound. Each word that came out from his mouth carried a message, a feeling. And somewhere, Peter hoped they would reach his father’s heart.
Eventually the music stopped and so did Peter. The room was once again bathed in silence. For the first time, his father seemed to notice him. As Peter looked him straight in the eyes, he couldn’t catch any glimpse of feelings from them. The man saw him but didn’t acknowledge him. There were no hugs, no kisses, no iloveyous exchanged. Peter had had enough. He wanted to run. He clenched his jaw and his knuckles to prevent himself to give in, and cry. Suddenly, Mary appeared by his side, and before he could say a thing to his father, took his hand, as she curtsied in front of their audience as performers did in theaters, to thank the public for their attention. Not long after, Mr. Baits joined in with applause and a laugh bursting from his bearded mouth, shouting “Bravo! What a voice!”.
Peter’s father rose from the seat he had been occupying, and slowly walked up to his son. Peter looked up, fear ceasing him again, as his body naturally tensed in preparation for a scolding. Only, when he expected pain, he felt warmth. He hadn’t seen his father take him into an embrace. They stood there for what seemed like a long time, with Peter too scared to break up this unusual to him moment. His father tightened his embrace.
“My God. I thought I had lost her. I thought your mother was forever gone.” he said, breaking into a sob.
Peter was not used to see his father this way. Mr. Pearson never broke down, least in front of an audience. Moreover, his statement startled the boy, and for the first time, Peter felt a warmth spread throughout his body. Just like that, the tension and angst he had felt all day vanished, leaving a new feeling – something resembling hope – behind.